One of the more intractable issues facing Mars and the entire cocoa industry is children on cocoa farms performing dangerous tasks or working instead of attending school. This is a high-profile issue that concerns social advocates and governments as well as customers and consumers. We share these concerns, and we don’t believe that the worst forms of child labor have any place in the sustainable cocoa sector we’re hoping to build in the coming years.
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, a globally recognized advocate for children, has championed this issue in a significant way. Senator Harkin has long supported efforts that assist families to remove their children from dangerous work environments and enroll them in school. In 2001 Senator Harkin challenged the cocoa industry to address the child labor issue in the world’s two largest cocoa producing countries: Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Since that time Mars has worked collaboratively with industry and a range of experts to find meaningful ways to address what has proven to be a very complex issue.
Senator Harkin (blue shirt) is flanked in the first row by Ghana Minister of Labor Mensah on his left and Ivorian Minister of Women & Children Raymonde on his right as they listen to a presentation by children in the Ghana community.
From 23 to 26 October I had the opportunity to join Senator Harkin in his second visit to Ghana to evaluate the progress that has been made in addressing the issue. In addition to meetings with the Ministers of Labor from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and working sessions with international child labor experts and project implementation partners, we visited two cocoa growing communities where efforts are under way to educate parents and community leaders about the need for children to be in school and not working in dangerous conditions. The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), a child labor focused foundation supported by Mars, together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the National Governments support work in these and other communities within Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
Senator Harkin, Ministers Mensah and Raymonde hear from the head of the women’s committee from the community they visited.
Senator Harkin was impressed to see that the community engagement effort is resulting in increased school enrollment and attendance and that parents in the communities have committed to seeing that their children will not perform dangerous tasks and will have school attendance as their top priority. Many communities, including the ones visited, have made significant improvements in the local schools to improve education for their children. Personal testimonials from children who have recently stopped working and been enrolled in school were especially impressive examples of progress. While it is clear from the visit that there are methods that work within communities to address child labor, there remains the challenge of how best to expand this effort across the very large cocoa sectors of the two countries, where as many as 1.2 million family cocoa farms are in operation.
Besides support for the ICI, Mars is pursuing another major activity that is expected to have a significant impact on child labor. The Vision for Change (V4C) program in Côte d’Ivoire is focused on improving incomes for cocoa farming families in Soubré – the largest cocoa producing region in the country. By training and enabling farmers to rehabilitate their farms and substantially increase their income, Mars will create an improved environment for addressing a number of family and community issues. Because poverty is the major driver of child labor, Mars’ efforts to significantly increase production and incomes on family farms will address the fundamental cause. The productivity improvement effort will be coupled with community empowerment activities that together will move the region towards more sustainable cocoa-growing farms, families and communities.
A group of school children listen to an address by Senator Harkin in the second, larger community that he visited in Ghana.